“Spring at Wuling” by Li Qingzhao

Li Qingzhao


The wind halts. The dust is fragrant
with fallen flowers.

Morning falls into evening. 
I am too tired to comb my hair. 

Things are the same, 
but people changed.

All is finished. 

I want to speak, 
yet tears flow first.

I hear them say 
spring is still good
at Twin Streams. 

I would float there
in a light boat,

but fear the grasshopper boats
at Twin Streams
could not bear such sorrow.

—translated from Chinese by Wendy Chen

from Rattle #57, Fall 2017


Wendy Chen: “Li Qingzhao is considered the greatest female poet in Chinese history. Yet despite her distinguished reputation in China, she remains relatively unknown and untranslated in the West. I am currently working on a translation of her body of work that, I hope, will revive interest and bring a new audience to her writing.” (web)

Li Qingzhao (1084–1151) defied cultural expectations for women by mastering ci (lyrics), composing scholarly wen (essays) on a variety of subjects, writing political shi (poems) criticizing government policies, and gaining the acknowledgement of her male contemporaries for her literary and scholarly accomplishments. She is renowned particularly for her ci, which are poems set to music with predetermined meters and tones. During the Southern Song Dynasty, her ci were gathered into a collection titled Rinsing over Jade that has since been lost. She persevered through war, exile, imprisonment, and the loss of her fortune, and continued writing all her life.

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